Trust and health: testing the reverse causality hypothesis

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

November 6, 2015


Background: Social capital research has consistently shown positive associations between generalised trust and health outcomes over 2 decades. Longitudinal studies attempting to test causal relationships further support the theory that trust is an independent predictor of health. However, as the reverse causality hypothesis has yet to be empirically tested, a knowledge gap remains. The aim of this study, therefore, was to investigate if health status predicts trust.
Methods: Data employed in this study came from 4 waves of the British Household Panel Survey between years 2000 and 2007 (N=8114). The sample was stratified by baseline trust to investigate temporal relationships between prior self-rated health (SRH) and changes in trust. We used logistic regression models with random effects, as trust was expected to be more similar within the same individuals over time.
Results: From the ‘Can trust at baseline’ cohort, poor SRH at time (t−1) predicted low trust at time (t) (OR=1.38). Likewise, good health predicted high trust within the ‘Cannot’ trust cohort (OR=1.30). These patterns of positive association remained after robustness checks, which adjusted for misclassification of outcome (trust) status and the existence of other temporal pathways.
Conclusions: This study offers empirical evidence to support the circular nature of trust/health relationship. The stability of association between prior health status and changes in trust over time differed between cohorts, hinting at the existence of complex pathways rather than a simple positive feedback loop.

Published in

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health







Online Early

Open Access article

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:



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